My recent piece for Al Jazeera has come in for some criticism from the tireless campaigners at Medialens. They challenged my claim that ‘in Libya, a popular revolution has overthrown a tyrant’ and they complained that my piece made ‘not a single mention of NATO’.
As far as I know it is correct to say that a popular revolution overthrew Gaddafi, though it is, for obvious reasons, difficult to gauge public opinion in a tyranny. This remains true even though the rebels relied decisively on foreign support, as, for example the Americans did in their revolutionary war against Britain.
I will pay close attention to what the Libyans themselves say about the matter and, if necessary, revise my views in light of the evidence. As Medialens will, I am sure.
I address the point about not mentioning NATO at the end of this post.
After an exchange on Twitter, @medialens and another Twitter user, @rippon3105, asked the questions below and I said I would answer them. Here are my responses.
“Do you consider NATO’s action a war crime?”
I believe the UN charter only authorises the use of force by states when they are subject to external attack. (Assisting the victims of aggression at their request is also lawful by extension)
The UN resolution on which NATO acted does not therefore constitute legal authorisation. Furthermore, UNSC Resolution 1970 certainly didn’t authorise NATO to act as military partner of the NTC.
So NATO’s actions were illegal, and therefore constitute war crimes.
This is the case even though the initial use of airpower by NATO ‘prevented a likely massacre’ in Eastern Libya.
“Do you think price exacted by the allies is worth it?”
There is no exchange rate I can see between human suffering and political change.
On the one hand, Gaddafi was a tyrant and I believe most Libyans wanted him gone (I’d be interested to know if this belief is mistaken). On the other hand, the overthrow has been hugely destructive and the casualties have been terrible.
The people who can speak authoritatively on this issue are the Libyans themselves, in the context of a democratic settlement. Some will be exhilarated by the overthrow, some devastated by grief. As for whether they think the suffering ‘worth it’, to some extent it depends on what happens in the future, the focus of my article.
But they, like me, might find it difficult to weigh human suffering against political change, might find it hard to answer your question.
A final point. Medialens say that I don’t mention NATO in the article. That is correct. However I do refer to foreign involvement and quite explicitly compare Libya with revolutionary America:
“Foreign powers helped them [the Libyans] overthrow their dictator. So what? Spain and France helped the US to free itself from Britain.”
I argue, in other words, that foreign assistance need not lead to lasting foreign influence over the country’s affairs. The foreign powers helping the rebels in Libya were France and Britain, primarily. I didn’t think any reader would be unaware of that. I am sorry that the point wasn’t made with sufficient clarity for Medialens to grasp it.